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Any time two artists release the same song within a short period of time it’s inevitable that they be compared to see which does it better, not just commercially but aesthetically as well.

These de facto competitions often don’t mean much but when one of the versions hits on the charts – especially if it’s the original – that puts the onus on the cover artist to justify their rendition. Are they merely trying to cynically latch onto a budding hit or can they top it by pressing the action using a more well-crafted fight plan?

But the two contenders here were hardly equals in this case. In fact if this were a boxing match it likely wouldn’t even get sanctioned by any respectable boxing commission.

The Ravens have been the class of the rock ‘n’ roll heavyweight division since their arrival on the scene more than two years ago and they’re taking on The Shadows, a group of journeyman welterweights who are making their debut in the ring after a fairly undistinguished amateur career. The odds of this bout even going the distance are pretty slim, it’s a total mismatch on paper.

But as you know such confident proclamations usually means this fight is ripe for an upset.


And In This Corner…
If you’ve had a ringside seat for these prizefights, our past reviews I mean, you know how well The Shadows did with their version of I’ve Been A Fool and after the glowing praise we dished out to them you probably don’t need us to tell you that the reigning champs, The Ravens, were about fall.

But there are different types of losses and not every defeat is something to be ashamed of. If you’re simply outpointed by a hungry upstart contender who’s a little bit quicker and more focused on fight night that’s far different than being battered around the ring in the early rounds and floored by an onslaught of punches for which you have no defense.

Surely The Ravens with their battering ram of a lead singer in Jimmy Ricks will at least go down swinging… right?

Well, maybe they would if Ricks laced up his gloves, but instead it’s the fragile high tenor of Maithe Marshall, their designated sacrificial lamb when it came to courting pop acceptance, who comes out for the pre-fight instructions from the referee and right there and then if you have any sense you know the fight is over.

It’s not that Marshall can’t sing, he’s got a great technical voice, a light airy tenor almost bordering on soprano, but he’s nothing more than a sparring partner when it comes to rock performances thus far. Or in boxing terms, he’s the guy who’s is going to dance around the ring and hope to win on style alone. But his opponent today, The Shadows’ Scott King, could fight effectively either way – jab, stick and move, putting on a clinic of technical showmanship… or he could throw a few haymakers and knock you on your ass with surprising power.

Once Marshall enters the ring prepared to handle I’ve Been A Fool as if it were a borderline pop offering he’s in effect moving The Ravens down to the lightweight division and thus doesn’t stand much of a chance against a lean and well-conditioned welterweight like King.


Shadow Boxing
Now that we’ve covered the tale of the tape let’s turn to the ringside observers who expect to see Marshall show plenty of fancy footwork while throwing light patting jabs to keep his opponent on the defensive as he’s counting on superior ring generalship to score with the judges. Granted it might not produce any thrilling action for the hardened fight fan hoping for a slug-fest but let’s be fair and at least see how effective Marshall is in trying to control the pace of this fight by doing… absolutely nothing?!

That’s right, he’s throwing in the towel as soon as the bell for the first round rings.

I’ve Been A Fool was never really a strong composition to begin with. It’s a downbeat song with a self-pitying perspective utilizing no great wordplay or deep psychological insight. The narrator is crying about being tossed aside by a girl he cared for, understandable I suppose if he were really in love with her, but one listen to how weepy he is tells you WHY she left him in the first place.

Scott King of course sang the exact same sentiments with The Shadows, word for word, yet his deepest emotions were at the forefront of his performance. Throughout that record he was battling his own doubts and insecurities, sometimes coming close to winning that struggle, other times losing and sinking back down, but he was always fully engaged with those emotions and trying his best to keep them in check. He sold the internal conflict for all it was worth, digging deep for his best shots and then easing back on the power with a deft touch, all of which elevated the mundane storyline far beyond the words on the lead sheet.

Marshall on the other hand seems to have no genuine emotions to offer. He’s an empty vessel, coming across as if he’s merely reading a script and shedding crocodile tears because he thinks that’s what is being called for.

His voice at times sounds quite nice, the notes he holds shimmering with grace, but that’s not what this needs to be convincing. It needs him to be so self-absorbed in his struggle to get through this ordeal that he’s not even aware he’s being listened to. He needs to have a sob in his throat, pain in his voice, moments where he wants to free himself of the anguish he feels by any available means, whether shouting, moaning or biting his lip in frustration as he turns away from the microphone too distraught to go on.

Instead he gives us “mildly dismayed” at best and takes a knee, looking for the referee to start the count before deciding whether to carry on.

Thinking You Cared
If we want to let him off the hook ever so slightly we can point to the equally wimpy accompaniment with its supper club piano and airy harmonies behind him that further this impression of an amateur theater production of some sappy melodrama.

Whereas The Shadows grounded it with subtle touches like a creaking saxophone and slinking guitar that took the weight of carrying every aspect of the melody off King, allowing him to stretch out at times, The Ravens version relies almost entirely on that dainty piano whose left hand is apparently attached to an arm that’s no more than five inches long because it obviously can’t reach the bass keys to give any semblance of resolve.

It’s hard to overcome a completely unsympathetic arrangement… or in boxing terms a bad trainer in your corner.

But with The Ravens there’s always one thing, one not-so-secret weapon, that is going to have to be taken into account sooner or later and while not always able to turn the tide single-handedly on these poppier excursions it at least has the potential to score a flash knockdown by landing something that has the proper gravity…

Of course we’re talking about the loaded gloves of Jimmy Ricks.

Sure enough Ricky’s appearance here marks the one and only time The Ravens go on the offensive in I’ve Been A Fool, delivering the bridge with all of the resonance and feeling that Marshall was so woefully lacking. In his one line Ricks’ has us believing that it was HE, not Maithe, who was rejected by this girl and that he’s the one who is grappling with the emotional fallout.

Perhaps energized by this showing the other Ravens then step to the forefront with a few well-delivered group vocals in a more spry tempo which ends with Marshall soaring in his best stretch – although he doesn’t quite stick the landing, reverting back to the more polite and mannered phrasing as he closes his solo line out – but which overall reminds you of just how good these guys were when they put their minds to it.

But unfortunately their minds were elsewhere on this, namely the pop charts, and the results – especially in a rock setting such as this – are going to suffer greatly for that decision and it’s hardly surprising when they wind up hitting the canvas, a glassy eyed expression on their faces as the ref counts them out.

You Broke It, It’s A Sin
No longer can we grant the mighty Ravens the benefit of the doubt when it comes to sidestepping a complete remakes in an effort to either afford the originators some respect, or to put their own spin on things, because structurally this follows mostly the same course as The Shadows had last month.

But (Jimmy Ricks’ cameo aside), what doesn’t follow the same course is the quality of the lead vocals. Maithe Marshall still doesn’t seem to grasp that lyrics actually are supposed to mean something and those lyrics and the emotions they conjure up have to match one another in order for a song to have real impact. By stripping I’ve Been A Fool of any real investment on his part those trite vocals he employs instead don’t have the power to do any damage on the inside where such fights are won.

In the past we’d have been likely to say we’d love to see him let his hands go (to keep the boxing metaphors going to the very end) to find out what that voice was capable of when he wasn’t pulling his punches, but now I think it’s time to face facts and admit that he just doesn’t have the killer instinct that most rock singers need to win over a song by sheer force of will.

As a result the lopsided scorecard in this fight doesn’t even tell the whole story, because if this WERE a boxing match it would never have gone to the judges… in fact, it wouldn’t have gotten out of the first round. The Shadows win by a knockout and The Ravens have to consider themselves lucky that it was a non-title bout on the undercard in which their heavy hitter was back in the locker room preparing for tomorrow’s main event.


(Visit the Artist page of The Ravens for the complete archive of their records reviewed to date)

Spontaneous Lunacy has reviewed other versions of this song you may be interested in:
The Shadows (December, 1949)